Cobb County, one of the largest counties in Georgia, is a cautionary tale for Georgians at the local government level, throughout our State. Once again, Cobb taxpayers are being asked to take a vote on a Special Purpose Option Sales Tax this November. In exchange for living within its means, local government is opting to shift the cost burden to taxpayers. Even proponents of this SPLOST like Ron Sifen, in a recent Marietta Daily Journal column, point out that this SPLOST has gone far away from its “special purpose” intent and is now used for routine maintenance that used to be paid for out of the general fund. Already, the County Commission voted to remove earmarks of $72.5 million for “intersection improvements” (code word for Bus Rapid Transit-BRT) along its planned route, reallocated tens of millions of those funds for gold plated sidewalks, some as wide as 10 feet, and specified that $60 million that would go to a “Local Match for Federal/State Funding” could not be used for BRT. They left it open ended as to where and how it could be used. What is to prevent future Cobb Commissioners from putting it back in under the guise of needing it relieve the inevitable parking and traffic nightmares that will visit us with the new Braves Stadium?
If the Cobb SPLOST measure is defeated, Cobb County’s sales tax would decline to 5%, making it the lowest sales tax in the region. Most counties in the Atlanta metro area have a sales tax rate of 7%. This significantly reduced tax rate would be a boon to Cobb County residents and businesses, saving consumers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over a six year period.
I have a novel idea. How about voting it down and forcing the County to live within its means? A continuation of this tax, which is fraught with waste and open-ended items which would give the County a blank check to spend taxpayer money in whatever ways they see fit. The best approach towards economic recovery is to reduce the tax burden so that individuals and businesses will have more money to save, spend and invest in the private sector. Along this vein, I am hosting a meeting from 11 am to 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 16, 2014 at the East Cobb Library, located at 4880 Lower Roswell Road, Marietta, GA 30068 to discuss the issue and the negative impact SPLOST will have in Cobb.
A better alternative to county level SPLOST passage would be to change state law currently requiring that any SPLOST be levied at a full one percent. For this reason, many wasteful projects are placed on the project list regardless of need. The Georgia Legislature should pass fractional SPLOST in the next legislative session, and then come back with a SPLOST which is more aligned with needs versus wants.
In essence, this SPLOST has become an open ended grab bag of projects which fails to answer the most fundamental questions such as what problems will they solve, what purpose do they serve, what goals are to achieved, what benefits are expected, and how much will it cost to operate and maintain additional infrastructure? No business would commit $750,000,000 for projects without adequate evidence of their beneficial results, and neither should the taxpayer be put on the hook for it.
Lance Lamberton is the Chairman and founder of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, a local taxpayer watchdog group organized in Cobb County to hold leaders accountable on tax and spending issues. Find out more at www.cobbtaxpayer.com.